*NOTE: This message was delivered at the Q Cities conference in Denver on September 27, 2012. My actual comments may have been slightly different from what is written here. Q restricts presentations to a maximum of 18 minutes, so this message could only skim the surface of the complicated intersection of gay rights and religious liberty.
When I was a freshman in college, the GLBA–the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Alliance–organized an annual Gay Awareness week. What I remember most was "Jean Day." The student leaders of the GLBA posted signs all over campus announcing that students could express their support for gay rights by wearing jeans on Thursday. Of course denim is a second skin for most college students, and it was obvious the GLBA was seeking to inflate their perception of support. The tactic was so transparent few people paid attention—until a conservative Christian student group began putting up their own signs. Their flyers called students who did not support gay rights to "wear a shirt on Thursday."
The battle lines were drawn. The silliness of the GBLA's scheme was matched by the stupidity of the Christians'.
Thursday came and members of the GBLA went to class in blue jeans and topless. (Some women wearing only bras.) The conservative Christians marched to class wearing khakis and in some cases multiple shirts, proudly doing their part to "uphold righteousness." Eventually the two groups got into a heated shouting match. The shirts accused the skins of being godless and immoral. The denims accused the khakis of being bigots and homophobes.
As I watched the scene unfold, the voice of my high school teacher echoed in my head. "Just remember," he'd told me, "college isn't the real world."
Sadly the real world has proven to look more like my college experience than I would have hoped, only now the shouting between the gay community and Christians happens on cable news, talk radio, outside courthouses and in school board meetings. Still there are many of us–both gay and straight, Christian and non-Christian, supporters of same sex marriage, and those like myself who hold to the church's traditional definition–who do not identify with the culture war rhetoric emanating from either side. We stand on the periphery wondering: isn't there a better way?
Must we view every advancement in gay rights as a defeat for people of religious conviction? And is the presence of Christian values in the public square automatically a threat to gay rights? What is the place of religious liberty? And how do we elevate the conversation from the shouting match it has become?
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